Still on reopening of schools

MINISTER of Education, Mr. Adamu Adamu, stoked controversy recently when he declared that Nigerian students might lose the opportunity to write the regional West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE), which more than 1.5 million candidates had registered for this year. Adamu premised his pronouncement on the continuous spread of the Covid-19 pandemic in the country. According to him, the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) could not determine Nigeria’s stand on the issue. The weight of his statement was underlined by the fact that he spoke after emerging from a Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari. This means that the statement superseded the earlier assurances given by the Minister of State for Education, Honourable Chukwuemeka Nwajiuba, on the reopening of schools to enable final-year students to write the examination.

The outrage trailing the minister’s statement is not unexpected. Stakeholders were quite hopeful about the reopening of schools after WAEC released dates for the examinations. But there are indeed reasons to be circumspect on the issue. It is legitimate to ask whether the Covid-19 curve has been flattened. And if federal unity schools are not safe for the WASSCE, how safe are schools belonging to states as well as privately-owned ones? What inputs have stakeholders like parents, school proprietors, health workers and state governments made in the efforts to chart the way forward?  To say the least, the situation is still grim. For instance, the spike of the pandemic in Japan, Denmark, India, Kenya, Norway, Sweden, South Africa and Israel, fuelled a fresh round of panic and stiffer measures to contain the spread in schools. There is equally the question of the vulnerability of students to the scourge because of youthful exuberance, peer group syndrome and conviviality, notwithstanding the well-defined Covid-19 protocols.

Happenings in France, Canada and South Korea, for instance, suggest caution. For instance, in May, almost an entire class of 12 students reportedly tested positive at an elementary school in Trois Rivières, Canada. In South Korea, two brothers were found to have the virus on June 29 at the Cheondong Elementary School in Daejeon, with two students who had contact with one of the brothers testing positive the next day. Early this month in Israel, more than 100 schools were shut and more than 13,000 students and teachers quarantined due to the virus. Admittedly, the disparate positions of the Minister of Education and the Minister of State for Education aggravated the current confusion.  But the outpouring of sentiments should not obscure the demerits of reopening schools without due consideration for the safety and survival of students.

Sadly, there is a yawning gap between the government and other major stakeholders, including health personnel, on germane and grave issues that must be resolved. In this regard, the Federal Government and the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 must provide useful and detailed information on their plans and actions and address the fears of the stakeholders, especially with respect to the academic future of students.  By their mandates, the PTF, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Ministry of Education are bound to have critical information which others are not privy to and which may be considered too sensitive to be placed in the public space. But there is a greater danger in hoarding information. Properly structured engagements and discussions will lead to a consensus on the best way forward. There is a need for all stakeholders to be on the same page on this issue.

The dizzying cacophonies are perplexing in view of the immediate and long-term implications for the country. All stakeholders have a role to play in resolving the issue through dialogue, proper planning and coordination.

 

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